Quotations about:
    America


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Dear America: You are waking up as Germany once did, to the awareness that 1/3 of your people would kill another 1/3, while 1/3 watches.

Werner Herzog
Werner Herzog (b. 1942) German film director, screenwriter, author, actor
(Spurious)

Though frequently showing up in social media attributed to Herzog, this was first published by the @wernertwertzog Twitter parody account (23 Aug 2017). The account is operated by William Pannapacker, American literature professor at Hope College, Holland, Michigan.

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Added on 8-Sep-22 | Last updated 8-Sep-22
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Never let yourself be persuaded that any one Great Man, any one leader, is necessary to the salvation of America. When America consists of one leader and 143,000,000 followers, it will no longer be America. Truly American leadership is not of any one man. It is of multitudes of men — and women. Eisenhower - Never let yourself be persuaded that any one Great Man it will no longer be America - wist.info quote

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
“An Open Letter to America’s Students,” Reader’s Digest (Oct 1948)
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Quoted in different locations with various numbers for the US population. The letter was written while Eisenhower was President of Columbia University.
 
Added on 6-Sep-22 | Last updated 6-Sep-22
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American society has always exercised a stronger pressure on individual behavior than Western European societies; but in time of war this pressure is notched a few degrees, and starts to become quite alarming.

Tzvetan Todorov
Tzvetan Todorov (1939-2017) Bulgarian-French historian, philosopher, literary critic, sociologist
The New World Disorder: Reflections of a European, ch. 3 (2005)
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Added on 15-Jun-22 | Last updated 15-Jun-22
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We should not be surprised that the Founding Fathers didn’t foresee everything, when we see that the current Fathers hardly ever foresee anything.

Henry Steele Commager (1902-1998) American historian, writer, activist
“Conversations with Historians,” interview by John A. Garraty, American Heritage (Feb 1970)
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Excerpted from Interpreting American History: Conversations with Historians, Part 1, ch. 4 (1970).
 
Added on 20-Apr-22 | Last updated 1-Jun-22
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The crucial disadvantage of aggression, competitiveness, and skepticism as national characteristics is that these qualities cannot be turned off at five o’clock.

Margaret Halsey
Margaret Halsey (1910-1997) American writer
The Folks at Home, “The Five O’Clock Shadow over the United States” (1952)
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Added on 31-Mar-22 | Last updated 31-Mar-22
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Loyalty … is a realization that America was born of revolt, flourished in dissent, became great through experimentation.

Henry Steele Commager (1902-1998) American historian, writer, activist
“Who Is Loyal to America?” Harper’s Magazine #1168 (Sep 1947)
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Reprinted in Freedom, Loyalty, Dissent (1954)
 
Added on 2-Mar-22 | Last updated 2-Mar-22
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We should not forget that our tradition is one of protest and revolt, and it is stultifying to celebrate the rebels of the past — Jefferson and Paine, Emerson and Thoreau — while we silence the rebels of the present.

Henry Steele Commager (1902-1998) American historian, writer, activist
“Who Is Loyal to America?” Harper’s Magazine #1168 (Sep 1947)
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Reprinted in Freedom, Loyalty, Dissent (1954).
 
Added on 16-Feb-22 | Last updated 16-Feb-22
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Independence was an act of revolution; republicanism was something new under the sun; the federal system was a vast experimental laboratory. Physically Americans were pioneers; in the realm of social and economic institutions, too, their tradition has been one of pioneering. From the beginning, intellectual and spiritual diversity have been as characteristic of America as racial and linguistic. The most distinctively American philosophies have been transcendentalism — which is the philosophy of the Higher Law — and pragmatism — which is the philosophy of experimentation and pluralism. These two principles are the very core of Americanism: the principle of the Higher Law, or of obedience to the dictates of conscience rather than of statutes, and the principle of pragmatism, or the rejection of a single good and of the notion of a finished universe. From the beginning Americans have known that there were new worlds to conquer, new truths to be discovered. Every effort to confine Americanism to a single pattern, to constrain it to a single formula, is disloyalty to everything that is valid in Americanism.

Henry Steele Commager (1902-1998) American historian, writer, activist
“Who Is Loyal to America?” Harper’s Magazine #1168 (Sep 1947)
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Reprinted in Freedom, Loyalty, Dissent (1954).
 
Added on 12-Jan-22 | Last updated 22-Jun-22
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Who are those who are really disloyal? Those who inflame racial hatreds, who sow religious and class dissensions. Those who subvert the Constitution by violating the freedom of the ballot box. Those who make a mockery of majority rule by the use of the filibuster. Those who impair democracy by denying equal educational facilities. Those who frustrate justice by lynch law or by making a farce of jury trials. Those who deny freedom of speech and of the press and of assembly. Those who press for special favors against the interest of the commonwealth. Those who regard public office as a source of private gain. Those who would exalt the military over the civil. Those who for selfish and private purposes stir up national antagonisms and expose the world to the ruin of war.

Henry Steele Commager (1902-1998) American historian, writer, activist
“Who Is Loyal to America?” Harper’s Magazine #1168 (Sep 1947)
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Reprinted in Freedom, Loyalty, Dissent (1954)
 
Added on 5-Jan-22 | Last updated 22-Jun-22
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Who among American heroes could meet their tests, who would be cleared by their committees? Not Washington, who was a rebel. Not Jefferson, who wrote that all men are created equal and whose motto was “rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” Not Garrison, who publicly burned the Constitution; or Wendell Phillips, who spoke for the underprivileged everywhere and counted himself a philosophical anarchist; not Seward of the Higher Law or Sumner of racial equality. Not Lincoln, who admonished us to have malice toward none, charity for all; or Wilson, who warned that our flag was “a flag of liberty of opinion as well as of political liberty”; or Justice Holmes, who said that our Constitution is an experiment and that while that experiment is being made “we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death.”

Henry Steele Commager (1902-1998) American historian, writer, activist
“Who Is Loyal to America?” Harper’s Magazine #1168 (Sep 1947)
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Reprinted in Freedom, Loyalty, Dissent (1954)
 
Added on 29-Dec-21 | Last updated 22-Jun-22
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What is the new loyalty? It is, above all, conformity. It is the uncritical and unquestioning acceptance of America as it is — the political institutions, the social relationships, the economic practices. It rejects inquiry into the race question or socialized medicine, or public housing, or into the wisdom or validity of our foreign policy. It regards as particularly heinous any challenge to what is called “the system of private enterprise,” identifying that system with Americanism. It abandons evolution, repudiates the once popular concept of progress, and regards America as a finished product, perfect and complete.

Henry Steele Commager (1902-1998) American historian, writer, activist
“Who Is Loyal to America?” Harper’s Magazine #1168 (Sep 1947)
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Reprinted in Freedom, Loyalty, Dissent (1954)
 
Added on 22-Dec-21 | Last updated 22-Jun-22
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Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

Timothy Snyder (b. 1969) American historian, author
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, ch. 18 (2017)
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Added on 11-Aug-21 | Last updated 11-Aug-21
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I see now that English class consciousness has an important silver lining. At least there we know that class is a real fact of social life. Posh Brits are more likely to see that their position is at least in part the result of good fortune. For Americans to solve the problem of their deepening class divisions, we will have to start by admitting their existence and our complicity in maintaining them. We need to raise our consciousness about class. And yes, I am looking at you.

Richard V. Reeves (b. 1969) British historian, journalist, political theorist
“Stop Pretending You’re Not Rich,” New York Times (10 Jun 2017)
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Added on 24-Jun-21 | Last updated 24-Jun-21
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The problem isn’t that our national character is too invested in civility. It’s that a certain segment of our population is desperate to be freed from it.

Lili Loofbourow (contemp.) American essayist, critic, author
“This Is America,” Slate (19 Aug 2018)
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Added on 22-Jun-21 | Last updated 22-Jun-21
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I’m a pacifist about certain things. I’m a pacifist in the way I define national interest. I use this example frequently: If the Mexicans decided to cross the Texas border with firearms, I would be down there in a moment with a rifle and a whistle to direct the troops to repel them. If the United States is attacked, I will defend it. My problem is the United States’ defending the interests of the Union Oil Company or the United Fruit Company. Those are not American interests. They’re private-money interests, and that bothers me a great deal.

Paul Fussell (1924-2012) American cultural and literary historian, author, academic
“The Initial Shock,” Interview by Sheldon Hackney, Humanities (Nov/Dec 1996)
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Added on 10-Jun-21 | Last updated 10-Jun-21
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Imagine my horror at discovering that the United States is more calcified by class than Britain, especially toward the top. The big difference is that most of the people on the highest rung in America are in denial about their privilege. The American myth of meritocracy allows them to attribute their position to their brilliance and diligence, rather than to luck or a rigged system. At least posh people in England have the decency to feel guilty.

Richard V. Reeves (b. 1969) British historian, journalist, political theorist
“Stop Pretending You’re Not Rich,” New York Times (10 Jun 2017)
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Added on 27-May-21 | Last updated 27-May-21
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Americans today often speak of racial prejudice as a thing that simply exists — like air — with no nod to the actual work it takes to create and maintain systems based upon prejudice.

Annette Gordon-Reed (b. 1958) American historian, law professor, author
“The Captive Aliens Who Remain Our Shame,” New York Review of Books (19 Jan 2017)
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Added on 24-May-21 | Last updated 24-May-21
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Envy is the gasoline on which American capitalism runs.

John Lahr (b. 1941) British-based American theater critic, author
“Lives in Limbo,” The New Yorker (26 Mar 2012)
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Added on 19-Apr-21 | Last updated 19-Apr-21
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Except for the field organizers of strikes, who were pretty tough monkeys and devoted, most of the so-called Communists I met were middle-class, middle-aged people playing a game of dreams. I remember a woman in easy circumstances saying to another even more affluent: “After the revolution even we will have more, won’t we, dear?” Then there was another lover of proletarians who used to raise hell with Sunday picnickers on her property.

I guess the trouble was that we didn’t have any self-admitted proletarians. Everyone was a temporarily embarrassed capitalist. Maybe the Communists so closely questioned by the investigation committees were a danger to America, but the ones I knew — at least they claimed to be Communists — couldn’t have disrupted a Sunday-school picnic. Besides they were too busy fighting among themselves.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968) American writer
“A Primer on the ’30s,” Esquire (1 Jun 1960)
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Collected in American and Americans (1966).

A portion of this was paraphrased in Ronald Wright, A Short History of Progress (2004): "John Steinbeck once said that socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires." That paraphrase has, in turn, been frequently cited as a direct quotation of Steinbeck.
 
Added on 14-Apr-21 | Last updated 20-Apr-21
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But the modern right wing, as Daniel Bell has put it, feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors had discovered conspiracies; the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high.

Richard Hofstadter (1916-1970) American historian and intellectual
“The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” Herbert Spencer Lecture, Oxford (Nov 1963)
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Reprinted in Harpers (Nov 1964).
 
Added on 9-Dec-20 | Last updated 9-Dec-20
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Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (b. 1947) American athlete [b. Lew Alcindor]
“Don’t understand the protests? What you’re seeing is people pushed to the edge,” op-ed, Los Angeles Times (30 May 2020)
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Added on 8-Dec-20 | Last updated 8-Dec-20
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It comes as a great shock around the age of 5, or 6, or 7, to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you.

James Baldwin (1924-1987) American novelist, playwright, activist
“The American Dream is at the Expense of the American Negro,” opening comments, Cambridge Union, Cambridge, England (17 Feb 1965)
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Debate with William F. Buckley, Jr.
 
Added on 27-Oct-20 | Last updated 27-Oct-20
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At the root of the American Negro problem is the necessity of the American White man to find a way of living with the Negro in order to be able to live with himself.

James Baldwin (1924-1987) American novelist, playwright, activist
“Stranger in a Village,” Harper’s Magazine (Oct 1953)
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Reprinted in Notes of a Native Son (1955).
 
Added on 12-Oct-20 | Last updated 12-Oct-20
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Clarity and perseverance are difficult in American society because the basis of capitalism is greed and dissatisfaction.

Natalie Goldberg (b. 1948) American author, teacher, speaker
Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life, ch. 42 (1990)
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Added on 11-Sep-20 | Last updated 11-Sep-20
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The American People will take Socialism, but they won’t take the label. I certainly proved it in the case of EPIC. Running on the Socialist ticket I got 60,000 votes, and running on the slogan to “End Poverty in California” I got 879,000. I think we simply have to recognize the fact that our enemies have succeeded in spreading the Big Lie. There is no use attacking it by a front attack, it is much better to out-flank them.

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) American writer, journalist, activist, politician
Letter to Norman Thomas (25 Sep 1951)
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Added on 30-Jul-20 | Last updated 30-Jul-20
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What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.

Robert Francis Kennedy (1925-1968) American politician
Statement on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Indianapolis (4 Apr 1968)
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Added on 28-Jul-20 | Last updated 28-Jul-20
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I told him that, thank God, under our constitution there was no connection between Church and State, and that in my action as President of the U.S. I recognized no distinction of creeds in my appointments to office.

James K. Polk (1795-1849) American lawyer, politician, US President (1845-1849)
Diary entry (14 Oct 1846)
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Added on 2-Jul-20 | Last updated 2-Jul-20
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It is a measure of the Negro’s circumstance that, in America, the smallest things usually take him so very long, and that, by the time he wins them, they are no longer little things: they are miracles.

Murray Kempton (1917-1997) American journalist.
Part of Our Time: Some Ruins & Monuments of the Thirties, ch. 8 (1955)
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On the formation of the Pullman Porters union.
 
Added on 26-Jun-20 | Last updated 26-Jun-20
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American capitalism is predatory, and American politics are corrupt: The same thing is true in England and the same in France; but in all these three countries the dominating fact is that whenever the people get ready to change the government, they can change it.

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) American writer, journalist, activist, politician
Letter to John Reed (22 Oct 1918)
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Added on 4-Jun-20 | Last updated 4-Jun-20
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America is rather like life. You can usually find in it what you look for.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“Impressions of America,” The Listener (4 Sep 1947)
 
Added on 20-May-20 | Last updated 20-May-20
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The art of holding onto power is the American system’s special grace. The trick is to make reform seem so tantalizingly close as to dull the edge of militancy and force the purest revolutionaries into the peripheries of political action.

Andrew Kopkind (1935-1994) American journalist
“Are We in the Middle of a Revolution?” New York Times Magazine (10 Nov 1968)
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Added on 13-May-20 | Last updated 13-May-20
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To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.

James Baldwin (1924-1987) American novelist, playwright, activist
In “The Negro After Watts,” Time (27 Aug 1965)
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Article placed in the Congressional Record by Robert Byrd (24 Aug 1965).
 
Added on 10-Jan-20 | Last updated 14-Jan-20
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I believe there’s an intrinsic irreverence in the American psyche, and when something comes along that offers even an echo of that irreverence, people respond to it.

Martin Mull (b. 1943) American actor, comedian
“20 Questions with Martin Mull,” Playboy (Apr 1984)
 
Added on 4-Sep-19 | Last updated 4-Sep-19
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What Mr. Howells said of the American theater is true of the whole American attitude toward life. “A tragedy with a happy ending” is exactly what the child wants before he goes to sleep: the reassurance that “all’s well with the world” as he lies in his cozy nursery. It is a good thing that the child should receive this reassurance; but as long as he needs it he remains a child, and the world he lives in is a nursery-world. Things are not always and everywhere well with the world, and each man has to find it out as he grows up. It is the finding out that makes him grow, and until he has faced the fact and digested the lesson he is not grown up — he is still in the nursery.

Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton (1862-1937) American novelist
French Ways and Their Meaning, ch. 4 “Intellectual Honesty” (1919)
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Commenting on William Dean Howells' comment to her on American taste in theater and drama: "What the American public wants is a tragedy with a happy ending."
 
Added on 10-Apr-19 | Last updated 10-Apr-19
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I’d be the first to say that some historical victories have been won by violence; the U.S. Revolution is certainly one of the foremost. But the Negro revolution is seeking integration, not independence. Those fighting for independence have the purpose to drive out the oppressors. But here in America, we’ve got to live together. We’ve got to find a way to reconcile ourselves to living in community, one group with the other. The struggle of the Negro in America, to be successful, must be waged with resolute efforts, but efforts that are kept strictly within the framework of our democratic society. This means reaching, educating and moving large enough groups of people of both races to stir the conscience of the nation.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, social activist, preacher
Playboy interview (Jan 1965)
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Added on 24-Mar-19 | Last updated 24-Mar-19
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We’re like a rich father who wishes he knew how to give his son the hardships that made the father such a man.

Robert Frost (1874-1963) American poet
Comment, “Meet the Press” (22 Mar 1959)

When asked by Ernest Lindley whether American civilization had improved or declined in his lifetime. Often misquoted as "Americans are like a rich father who wishes he knew how to give his son the hardships that made him rich."
 
Added on 13-Mar-19 | Last updated 13-Mar-19
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America is therefore a free country, in which, lest anyone be hurt by your remarks, you are not allowed to speak freely of private individuals or of the State; of the citizen or of the authorities; of public or of private undertakings; or, in short, of anything at all, except it be of the climate and the soil; and even then Americans will be found ready to defend either the one or the other, as if they had been contrived by the inhabitants of the country.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) French writer, diplomat, politician
Democracy in America, Vol. 1, “Public Spirit in the United States” (1835) [tr. Reeve (1839)]
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Added on 26-Jan-19 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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Americans’ lack of passion for history is well known. History may not quite be bunk, as Henry Ford suggested, but there’s no denying that, as a people, we sustain a passionate concentration on the present and the future. Backward is just not a natural direction for Americans to look — historical ignorance remains a national characteristic.

Larry McMurtry
Larry McMurtry (b. 1936) American novelist, essayist, bookseller, screenwriter
Oh What a Slaughter: Massacres in the American West: 1846–1890 (2005)
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Added on 1-Jan-19 | Last updated 1-Jan-19
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Americans rightly think their patriotism is a sort of religion strengthened by practical service.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) French writer, diplomat, politician
Democracy in America, Vol. 1, “Public Spirit of the Townships of New England” (1835)
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Alt. trans.: "For in the United States it is believed, and with truth, that patriotism is a kind of devotion which is strengthened by ritual observance." [tr. Reeve (1839)]
 
Added on 14-Nov-18 | Last updated 14-Nov-18
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The surface of Americna society is, if I may use the expression, covered with a layer of democracy, from beneath which the old aristocratic colors sometimes peep.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) French writer, diplomat, politician
Democracy in America, ch. 2 (1835) [tr. Reeve (1899)]
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    Alt. trans.:
  • As above, but given as "... sometimes seep."
  • "American society, if I may put it this way, is like a painting that is democratic on the surface but from time to time allows the old acistocratic colors to peep through." [tr. Goldhammer (2004)]
  • "The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colors breaking through."
 
Added on 12-Sep-18 | Last updated 12-Sep-18
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In the end, the American Dream is not a sprint or even a marathon, but a relay.

Julián Castro (b. 1974) American politician and bureaucrat
Speech, Democratic National Convention, Charlotte, NC (4 Sep 2012)
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Added on 8-Aug-18 | Last updated 8-Aug-18
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Many of the ugly pages of American history have been obscured and forgotten. A society is always eager to cover misdeeds with a cloak of forgetfulness, but no society can fully repress an ugly past when the ravages persist into the present. America owes a debt of justice which it has only begun to pay. If it loses the will to finish or slackens in its determination, history will recall its crimes and the country that would be great will lack the most indispensable element of greatness — justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, social activist, preacher
Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967)
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Added on 17-Nov-17 | Last updated 9-Nov-20
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The only American invention as perfect as a sonnet.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
(Attributed)

Referring to the dry martini cocktail.
 
Added on 10-Nov-17 | Last updated 10-Nov-17
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We must make it clear that in our struggle to end this thing called segregation, we are not struggling for ourselves alone. We are not struggling only to free seventeen million Negroes. The festering sore of segregation debilitates the white man as well as the Negro. We are struggling to save the soul of America.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, social activist, preacher
“Keep Moving from This Mountain,” Spelman College (10 Apr 1960)
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Added on 3-Nov-17 | Last updated 3-Nov-17
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I accept this idea of democracy. I am all for trying it out. It must be a good thing if everybody praises it like that. If our government has been willing to go to war and sacrifice billions of dollars and millions of men for the idea I think that I ought to give the thing a trial. The only thing that keeps me from pitching head long into this thing is the presence of numerous Jim Crow laws on the statute books of the nation. I am crazy about the idea of democracy. I want to see how it feels.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) American writer, folklorist, anthropologist
“Crazy for This Democracy,” Negro Digest (Dec 1945)
 
Added on 12-Jul-17 | Last updated 12-Jul-17
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America’s two great specialties are demagogues and rock and roll, and we’ve all heard plenty of both in our time.

king-demagogues-and-rock-and-roll-wist_info-quote

Stephen King (b. 1947) American author
“Busted” (2009)
 
Added on 2-Nov-16 | Last updated 2-Nov-16
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It is an unhappy truth that racism is a way of life for the vast majority of white Americans. Spoken and unspoken, acknowledged and denied, subtle, sometimes not so subtle, the disease of racism permeates and poisons a whole body politic.

And I can see nothing more urgent than for America to work passionately and unrelentingly to get rid of the disease of racism. Something positive must be done. Everyone must share in the guilt as individuals and as institutions. The government must certainly share the guilt. Individuals must share the guilt. Even the church must share the guilt.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, social activist, preacher
“Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” sermon, National Cathedral, Washington, DC (31 Mar 1968)
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This was King's last sermon before his assassination.
 
Added on 9-Oct-16 | Last updated 16-Jan-23
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In our brief national history, we have shot four of our presidents, worried five of them to death, impeached one and hounded another out of office. And when all else fails, we hold an election and assassinate their characters.

P. J. O'Rourke (b. 1947) American humorist, editor
Parliament of Whores, “The President” (1991)
 
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You know, here in America we’re loyal to our flaws. It’s like, if we change even our flaws there’s something wrong.

William "Bill" Maher (b. 1956) American comedian, political commentator, critic, television host.
“Bill Maher, Incorrect American Patriot,” Interview with Sharon Waxman, Washington Post (8 Nov 2002)
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The United States brags about its political system, but the President says one thing during the election, something else when he takes office, something else at midterm and something else when he leaves.

Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997) Chinese revolutionary, politician, statesman [Teng Hsiao-p'ing]
Comment (1983)
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When asked by a group of American professors about China's political stability. Quoted in Philip West and Frans A. M. Alting von Geusau, The Pacific Rim and the Western World: Strategic, Economic, and Cultural Perspectives (1987).
 
Added on 18-Jul-16 | Last updated 18-Jul-16
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One hundred and eighty-eight years ago this week a small band of valiant men began a long struggle for freedom. They pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor not only to found a nation, but to forge an ideal of freedom — not only for political independence, but for personal liberty — not only to eliminate foreign rule, but to establish the rule of justice in the affairs of men. That struggle was a turning point in our history. Today in far corners of distant continents, the ideals of those American patriots still shape the struggles of men who hunger for freedom. This is a proud triumph. Yet those who founded our country knew that freedom would be secure only if each generation fought to renew and enlarge its meaning.

Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) American politician, educator, US President (1963-69)
Speech, Signing the Civil Rights Act (2 Jul 1964)
 
Added on 13-Jul-16 | Last updated 13-Jul-16
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The truest American president we have ever had, the companion of Washington in our love and honor, recognized that the poorest man, however outraged, however ignorant, however despised, however black, was, as a man, his equal. The child of the American people was their most prophetic man, because, whether as small shop-keeper, as flat-boatman, as volunteer captain, as honest lawyer, as defender of the Declaration, as President of the United States, he knew by the profoundest instinct and the widest experience and reflection, that in the most vital faith of this country it is just as honorable for an honest man to curry a horse and black a boot as it is to raise cotton or corn, to sell molasses or cloth, to practice medicine or law, to gamble in stocks or speculate in petroleum. He knew the European doctrine that the king makes the gentleman; but he believed with his whole soul the doctrine, the American doctrine, that worth makes the man.

George William Curtis (1824-1892) American essayist, editor, reformer, orator
“The Good Fight” (1865)
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In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, social activist, preacher
“I Have a Dream,” speech, Washington, DC (28 Aug 1963)
 
Added on 7-Jul-16 | Last updated 7-Jul-16
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The first requisite of a good citizen in this republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his weight; that he shall not be a mere passenger, but shall do his share in the work that each generation of us finds ready to hand; and, furthermore, that in doing his work he shall show, not only the capacity for sturdy self-help, but also self-respecting regard for the rights of others.

Roosevelt - pull his weight - wist_info quote

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) US President (1901-1909)
Speech, New York (11 Nov 1902)
 
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You convey too great a compliment when you say that I have earned the right to the presidential nomination. No man can establish such an obligation upon any part of the American people. My country owes me no debt. It gave me, as it gives every boy and girl, a chance. It gave me schooling, independence of action, opportunity for service and honor. In no other land could a boy from a country village, without inheritance or influential friends, look forward with unbounded hope. My whole life has taught me what America means. I am indebted to my country beyond any human power to repay.

Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) American engineer, bureaucrat, President of the US (1928-32)
Letter to George Moses (14 Jun 1928)

When learning of his nomination for President; Moses was the chairman of the Republican National Convention.
 
Added on 9-Jun-16 | Last updated 9-Jun-16
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